Omri Ceren writes to comment on Jay Solomon’s page-one Wall Street Journal article “Uranium provides new clue on Iran’s past nuclear arms work.” I thought that readers who have been following the story of our partnership with, and funding of, the Islamic Republic of Iran would appreciate this update, provided by Omri with the usual footnotes.
Readers may recall Obama’s assertions at the time he announced the deal: “Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary. That arrangement is permanent. And the IAEA has also reached an agreement with Iran to get access that it needs to complete its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research.” These assertions are now revealed to be something less than the truth, not that you didn’t know that already:
The Obama administration is now admitting that Iran did nuclear weapons work at its military facility at Parchin, based on a December IAEA report that described two “chemically man-modified particles of natural uranium” at the site. But the evidence is too sparse to figure out what kind of work the Iranians were doing, just that they were doing some kind of nuclear weapons work:
Current and former U.S. officials asked about the uranium finding said the working assumption now is that it is tied to nuclear weapons development… “The existence of two particles of uranium there would be consistent with our understanding of the involvement of Parchin in a past weapons program, but by themselves don’t definitively prove anything,” said a senior administration official briefed on the evidence.
One reason the IAEA can’t determine what happened is because – as part of the nuclear deal – the U.S. collapsed on long-standing demands that the Iranians fully come clean on their past weapons work, the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) of their nuclear program. Instead the Iranians were allowed to deny the Agency access to top nuclear scientists and to self-inspect at Parchin, passing on soil samples from pre-selected locations. That wasn’t enough for the IAEA to make a determination:
Iran didn’t allow the agency to interview top nuclear scientists believed to have overseen nuclear weapons development… Iran did allow IAEA inspectors to collect soil samples from Parchin in October that were tested for the presence of nuclear materials. The agency found two particles of man-made uranium… The amount of uranium was so small that the IAEA couldn’t conclude for certain that nuclear materials had been at the base.
Normally if the IAEA doesn’t have enough evidence about likely weapons work, it just goes back and gets more. But the nuclear deal blocks further inspections:
Normally, the IAEA requires additional samples to be taken when there are irregularities found in their tests… But under last year’s nuclear agreement, Tehran was only required to allow the IAEA’s inspectors to visit the Parchin facility once… Under the nuclear deal, Iran has committed to allowing the IAEA access to all of its suspected nuclear sites. But it isn’t clear if Iran would allow inspectors back into Parchin because it is a military base. Iranian officials have said last year’s visit wouldn’t be repeated.
So the Iranians were doing weapons work, the IAEA doesn’t know what kind of work it was, and the deal doesn’t force the Iranians to clarify. The result guts verification of the deal: IAEA inspectors can’t confirm Iran has halted its illicit weapons work, because inspectors don’t know what kind of illicit weapons work Iran was doing. There is no baseline to work from:
Critics of the nuclear deal have cited the presence of uranium at Parchin as evidence the Obama administration didn’t go far enough in demanding Iran answer all questions concerning its past nuclear work before lifting international sanctions in January. They also argue that it is hard to develop a comprehensive monitoring regime without knowing everything Iran has done.
Last June Secretary Kerry had previously argued that the U.S. didn’t even need Iran to come clean because the U.S. had “absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in” [a]. The claim was widely criticized by lawmakers and analysts for being false [b][c]. The AP subsequently revealed the self-inspection arrangement in August [d]. Defenders of the deal responded with an organized public attack on the outlet’s credibility, up to and including suggestions that the AP was running forged Israeli documents [e]. Administration officials separately argued that the Iranian inspections would be adequate to resolve the nature of the country’s past weapons work [f].